There’s a running joke amongst my friends that I love attention and constantly seek validation.
Like all jokes, there’s some truth to it. And I think it used to be even more true.
We’re kind of raised on validation – your parents tell you that you did a good job with some sort of task, then sports define winning and losing, then you have test grades and class rankings, then you’re “accepted” by colleges or offered a job…
All along the way, we’re looking to someone to say, “Good job. You did it. You’re good enough.”
As we get older, external validation starts to look a lot different. This is true for those pursuing careers as well as someone building their own path.
Who is there to tell us we are doing a good job? Who is there to tell us we are enough?
It’s easy to see the exceptional. A quick Google search will tell you Elon Musk is 47 or that the founder of Snapchat is 28.
And when we see those exceptional “peers” of ours, we really start to question our path – in fact we question everything.
Am I in the right career? Am I doing things the right way? How can they possibly be so “far ahead” of me??
And then a new form of external validation emerged: awards and lists.
Forbes 30 Under 30, Business Journal 40 Under 40, People to Know, yada yada yada.
Even speaking opportunities or interviews can be used as validation.
So much of this validation is something that you apply for, or push your way into. And a lot of times, these awards are built for attention and eyeballs – not for recognizing the best possible.
A friend of mine tweeted a reference in Amy Pohler’s book about “chasing the pudding.”
A few years ago I listened to Amy Poehler's book "Yes Please." She talked about "the pudding." Essentially her metaphor for winning awards. And if you're always trying to get the pudding, guess what? There's always going to be more pudding to try to get. It's a never-ending game.
— Jason Zook (@jasondoesstuff) November 13, 2018
And so we apply, and we lobby, and then we share the links to our achievements. Look at me!
I know, because I’ve done it.
And at times, the pudding tasted great! I love pudding.
But as Jason said, the problem with chasing the pudding is that there will always be more pudding to chase. There will always be another list, another recognition, another awards ceremony to attend.
And we’ll see the posts, and we’ll feel the FOMO.
Why did he get pudding? Where was mine? I’m WAY more deserving of pudding.
Recently, we interviewed a guy named Ezra Galston on our podcast. We had been referred to him (and invited him on the podcast) three times before he finally agreed to do it.
He doesn’t have a huge following, he keeps a low public profile, and when you Google his name, you only find his work.
And yet when we published the episode, we were blown away by the reception we got.
Those who know Ezra know he’s the real deal. They respect his work, and they rave about him.
But Ezra isn’t chasing the pudding.
I’m more and more fascinated by people who are doing great work under the radar. And I’m more and more skeptical of some of the public “successes” that are on the radar.
This year I’ve stopped seeking out nominations or recognition in the form of awards.
I’m no longer interested in chasing the pudding, and instead I’m looking towards a better source of external validation: happy friends, readers, listeners, clients, and customers.
Introductions, recommendations, and referrals are a much more satisfying (and sustainable) form of validation.